How To Speak Mexican

How To Speak Mexican

By Michael G. McLaughlin

living in ajijic


No, this is not an article on the passive tense of the Spanish verb ir or where to go to take Spanish language classes.

I have lived here 16 years and have known many people move to Mexico, stay for three years, and head home, usually because they cannot live in the culture. Why?

Here is what you need to know and do to coexist in Mexico with—who else?—Mexicans.

First of all, like everywhere else sense of HUMOR is a must and especially the willingness to poke fun at yourself. You don’t have to be Shecky Green, cracking one-liners with every breath, but a sense of humor with “the locals” goes a long way. The Mexicans have an acute sense of humor and appreciate someone who does. I would suggest no political jokes, even though, believe it or not, Mexicans are more cynical about their government than Americans or Canadians. Self-deprecating jokes will get you on a Mexican’s good side. If you do or say something stupid, smile and lament your mistake. I use the joke: “No soy ignorante, soy estúpido” (I’m not ignorant, I’m stupid.)

You have to have PATIENCE to live in Mexico. One of the first things you will hear from the old-timers is that Mexicans have a different sense of time. What that means is when a Mexican announces what you want will be poco momentos, expect a wait just under an hour. If a Mexican uses the phrase mas tarde, expect to wait more than two hours. If he says mañana, (tomorrow), come back in three days to be sure. This is normal.  Accept it.  And why not remind yourself that you came to Mexico for the slower pace. Or, as they say in Spanish: “Aun no tienes alas y ya quieres volar” (You don’t have wings and already want to fly. Wait, be patient.

Do not have IMPATIENCE in Mexico. A display of impatience is rude and anything else you might say will be meaningless to move that person to action.

If you are a person who says, “I demand to see the supervisor!” well, Mexico is NOT a demand-to-see-the-supervisor country. Like anywhere else, courtesy persuades.  Calmly state your case and, again, explain your situation. Raising your voice here as anywhere else is considered rude and pushy. I will admit that a mature woman who can look defeated, desperate or forlorn will get more action (no, not that kind) and will be helped more readily. Life is not fair, guys.

When dealing with Mexicans you do not need to OVER EXPLAIN. Having nuevo language skills in Spanish can be dangerous when you wax eloquent about this or that and the Mexican listener gets lost in your three verb changes in one sentence.

Also, you affluent Spanish speaker types, do not show off your language skills and sound like Cervantes.

Of course, as you learned in kindergarten, PLEASE por favor and THANK YOU gracias are the best start and finish of any social or business intercourse. A smile is universal; use it. And no bone-crusher handshakes because “That’s the way we do it.”

Mexico is generally a conservative country in many ways. They are not wild-eyed revolutionaries. So any discussion of social issues that you feel strongly about are best kept to yourself. You can express an OPINION, but I would temper any provocative comment with a shrug of the shoulder and that you do it differently where you come from. I think we all get confused with good and bad AND different.

As mentioned before, the reason many people leave after a few years living in Mexico is they can’t stand the INEFFICIENCY, even though they don’t say that word, but that is what they mean. As Norte Americanos, we are efficient people. Efficiency is our middle name. We are always striving to be more efficient because (cliché coming) time is money. I don’t know how many times I have heard from gringos how inefficient Mexico is. And I have to agree that some things in Mexico are damned inefficient and could be improved on. Those thoughts I keep to myself and I’m always aware, again, knowing the difference between good and bad and different ways of doing things. Of course efficiency is relative. A  number of years ago I was in Africa and if you want to see inefficiency . . . let’s put it this way, when I returned to Mexico I came to realize that the Mexicans were the Swiss of Latin America compared to most of Africa.

So, to sum up, speaking Mexican requires the same thing as any country: patience, manners, humor and wisdom, something we all need to work on every day.


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